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Regional asynchronicity in dairy production and processing in early farming communities of the northern Mediterranean

by Myriam Méziou - published on

Cynthianne Debono Spiteri, Rosalind E. Gillis, Mélanie Roffet-Salque, Laura Castells Navarro, Jean Guilaine, Claire Manen, Italo M. Muntoni, Maria Saña Segui, Dushka Urem-Kotsou, Helen L. Whelton, Oliver E. Craig, Jean-Denis Vigne, and Richard P. Evershed. PNAS, november 2016.

In the absence of any direct evidence, the relative importance of meat and dairy productions to Neolithic prehistoric Mediterranean communities has been extensively debated. Here, we combine lipid residue analysis of ceramic vessels with osteo-archaeological age-at-death analysis from 82 northern Mediterranean and Near Eastern sites dating from the seventh to fifth millennia BC to address this question. The findings show variable intensities in dairy and nondairy activities in the Mediterranean region with the slaughter profiles of domesticated ruminants mirroring the results of the organic residue analyses. The finding of milk residues in very early Neolithic pottery (seventh millennium BC) from both the east and west of the region contrasts with much lower intensities in sites of northern Greece, where pig bones are present in higher frequencies compared with other locations. In this region, the slaughter profiles of all domesticated ruminants suggest meat production predominated. Overall, it appears that milk or the by-products of milk was an important foodstuff, which may have contributed significantly to the spread of these cultural groups by providing a nourishing and sustainable product for early farming communities.

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